Everybody’s Thirsty for Draft. . . Tap into the Trend!June 28, 2012 By: Maia Merrill Gosselin
Be honest: how focused are you on your draft beer program? Yes, of course draft is important – it’s popular, affordable and immensely lucrative. But in the wake of all the excitement over craft bottles, combined with the cocktail craze and wine enthusiasm, drafts in general have taken a back seat. Simply put: they’re just not as exciting. But things are changing! The category is being revitalized as brewers big and small are focusing their attentions on all things draft. From innovative brand extensions to an explosion of local offerings to dedicated education programs, the draft beer category is rapidly evolving – so don’t miss out!
Thrill of the New
There is an indisputable thirst for the new these days and this certainly holds true for draft beer. Trent Scribner, the bar manager at The Social House in Addison, TX., remarks, “The on-going trend lately has been what's new. Our patrons who are avid beer drinkers are always looking for that new thing to entice their palate… Since I have taken over the ordering, I have slowly tried to work new and exciting beers into the mix.”
Having the newest beer also adds to the exclusivity factor. Keegan Moon, director of operations for the Public House in Chicago, IL. comments, “Our draft program has changed slightly over the past year. We try to keep up with the trends and cater to guests’ wants, but one important factor for us is to be the first, and/or the only, location to provide some of our offerings…there have been (or are) beers available at Public House that aren't available anywhere else in the world.” In other words: if you tap it, they will come.
Trendy on Tap
So what exactly are people thirsty for? Seasonals! Scribner says, “Seasonal beers seem to be picking up like crazy. I want people to try new things, especially some of the seasonal beers that the smaller breweries are doing. They are hidden gems in my opinion, and part of me wants them to stay hidden so I can drink more! Rahr Brewery and St. Arnold's Brewery do some of the best seasonal beers I have ever had.” To encourage sampling, The Social House features all 50 of its drafts for $3 every Tuesday. “It’s a definite must for beer drinkers considering the selection that we have,” Scribner comments.
And it’s not just craft brewers putting out seasonals. Heineken USA, which has Newcastle in its portfolio, has released four Newcastle Limited Edition seasonal beers: Founder’s Ale, Summer Ale, Werewolf and Winter IPA, all of which have sold very well on draft. Patrick Libonate, director of on-premise draught & strategy for Heineken USA (HUSA), emphasizes, “Upscale is where the industry is growing. Good beer is an affordable luxury and data shows consumers are looking to upgrade their beer experience... Consumers are often willing to pay a bit more for the higher quality, authentic experience offered with draft beer which results in higher profit margins for the retailer – a win/win for all.” Overall, the company has placed a strong focus on its draft programs in the US with the nationwide launch of Heineken draft last year as well as Amstel Wheat.
On a smaller scale, limited release brews, or “one-offs,” are very popular. Mainly craft in style, these beers give brewers an opportunity to experiment and showcase their skills. While not widely available, they are nonetheless an attraction for those seeking something unique.
More than ever, today’s drinker is beverage-savvy. From classic cocktail history to craft beer lingo, consumers know their libations. Mike Duratti, general manager for the Black Cow Tap & Grill which has locations in Newburyport and Hamilton, MA., says, “Clientele are much more educated – they know all about new beers being released and they’re interested to taste something new.”
HUSA’s Libonate comments, “Successful operators understand that the knowledge of the average beer consumer in the US has grown substantially over the past few years, which is a great movement for the beer category as a whole. These savvier beer drinkers know that draft offers a higher quality beer experience and when poured and served properly, is representative of how the brew master intended it to be enjoyed.”
Of course, if your customers know their stuff, your staff had better also! Beer training should be automatic. Brewers themselves are often happy to come in and hold educational tastings with staff. Libonate says, “At HUSA, we have developed our Passion 4 Beer program to help on-premise accounts establish a proper quality draft standard for their staff that will ensure a great experience for their patrons.” Additionally, passion4beer.com has information on all of the company’s draft offerings including pairing suggestions, freshness standards and draft troubleshooting.
“Local” is the buzz word of the moment. Everyone is buying, eating, and drinking locally-made products and this applies to draft beer too. “People love to try the local beers,” Duratti comments. “Especially if you’re a tourist destination, as Newburyport is, guests really want to taste the local offerings on tap.” He does add that just as many regular customers enjoy the regional beers as well.
Beer dinners and tastings present a terrific opportunity to bring in new business. The Public House’s Moon explains, “We offer frequent beer tastings and samplings with multiple breweries we work with. One of my favorite specialty promotions we have tied beer into is our annual Barley's Angels event (a beer sampling event combined with food pairings geared towards women). Another would be our annual BrewMasters promotion that we host throughout the Masters Golf Tournament where Goose Island and Public House team up to offer a "9-hole" tasting of rare Goose Island creations served to our guests from the brew masters themselves.” Don’t forget: local, small brewers will likely be interested in doing beer pairing dinners to promote their releases.
For the novice (or even seasoned) beer drinker, trying to navigate a menu filled with esoteric terminology can be overwhelming. Simplify it! The Public House’s beer menu uses symbols to help patrons decipher offerings. Moon says, “Just as wine, beer can be quite intimidating. Our goal was to simplify this process and we do so through the use of emoticons. For example, if a beer is light you'll find a feather next to it versus an anvil for the heavier options. If it is hoppy you'll find a rabbit; non-alcoholic has a steering wheel, and the list goes on. It allows for our guests to pick a beer right in line with their tastes.”
Glassware Goes Glam
Gone are the days of the standard pint glass, that’s so basic! Glassware for draft beer has been elevated to an art form. For the last few years Stella Artois has set the glassware standard with its iconic chalice. Not to be outdone, other brands are focusing on designing glassware specific to their draft offerings. It’s not uncommon to see drafts served in goblets, steins, chalices, flutes, flagons and more. New this summer for Newcastle is the Geordie Schooner, a style based on English ale glassware design intended to retain the beer’s head and aroma.
Get a Handle on It
A tap handle is a beer’s calling card – the funkier the better. From lighthouses to lobsters, breweries are increasingly showing their creative flair with eclectic designs. This year, Heineken will release its Tower – a stainless steel model with LED lighting and a taller tap handle. Public House, which has 25 taps, also has booths with tabletop draft systems featuring two beer choices.
Keeping the Balance
Sure, crafts are what everyone is interested in but it’s important to keep a well-rounded selection and that means mainstream beer. Duratti points out, “With everything we have on draft, Bud Light is still our biggest seller. People often come in and have something light to quench their thirst first then move on to trying other beers.” Moon at Public House also makes the point that: “Public House does some of the most volume in Chicago for well knowns such as Bud Light, all while being a top account for smaller breweries such as Brasserie d'Achouffe out of Belgium.”
All in all, it’s easy to see that the draft category has ramped itself up into a game-changing force. Scribner aptly sums it up: “Having a strong draft program is essential for a successful business. I’ve worked at many different bars in my time and have found that having a change in selection and people who actually know how to sell beer to customers is a must.” Draft offers limitless potential these days – don’t take it for granted!
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Don’t Watch Your Profits Drain Away!
As profitable as draft beer is, if not managed properly it can lead to major losses. For Keegan Moon, director of operations for Public House in Chicago, IL., managing his draft system is serious business. “Draft beer can be one of the highest grossing aspects of any venue so it is extremely important to us,” he remarks. “There are some key factors that assist in achieving this, the most important being the system itself. Researching the best installers and best companies to maintain these systems is crucial. Draft beer can be very temperamental; it must always be kept at specific temperatures in the coolers as well as in the lines and it is even important how kegs are changed. Any deviation from the proper procedures can cause issues (i.e. foam) to the point of which you literally watch your money go right down the drain. If these items aren't monitored regularly and maintained accordingly, your business can easily hemorrhage money.”
To ensure your system operates smoothly with minimal loss, an outside draft management company could be the answer. California-based Micro Matic USA specializes in developing and installing draft beer dispensing systems. In addition, they provide a range of educational programs and partner with TapDynamics to monitor sales. Sales Development Manager Mike Godwin provides three key tips to ensure a solid draft program:
1. Temperature – dedicate a walk-in cooler to keg storage. If the cooler is used for other foods, the door is constantly opened and the keg temperature can fluctuate.
2. Gas Blend – a gas source blending CO2 and nitrogen is best for dispensing and keg storage. Too much CO2 can over-pressurize the keg in time. Our blenders are designed and built by http://mcdantim.com/ -- they have a number of resources on their site.
3. Pressure – using the right pressure for gas is critical for each keg. We are only trying to maintain the carbonation the brewer intended the beer to have.
For more information on Micro Matic’s Best Practices on Pouring the Perfect Pint visit www.micromatic.com.